Getting the details right is the core ingredient for the top resorts. It’s even more crucial when a golf dimension is involved. Customers are more savvy than ever before. The need to excel is often the key dividing line between the resorts that are good and those at the highest of levels where exemplary outcomes are carried out consistently.
Customer satisfaction weighs heavily on the shoulders of the key people at the top of any resort hierarchy. The general managers are the point person where the embodiment of a resort rests. It is the GM’s who make sure all the loose ends are tied neatly together. In years past a mistake might easily become invisible after a day or two. Not anymore. The tales customers provide on the time they give and the money they spend runs through various echo chambers via social media. Suffice to say — the negative comments can weigh more heavily than a ship’s main anchor.
President Harry S. Truman was famous for saying, “The buck stops here.” No less the same situation applies to General Managers who must handle a myriad of matters and do so in a manner that avoids fanfare and attention.
Clearly, getting the “inside” story from the core people who figuratively must hit home runs each day provides readers and future guests a thorough understanding of what it takes to not only survive but thrive.
Director of Hotel Operations
French Lick Springs Hotel
French Lick, Indiana
As an Indiana native, Blackburn is proud to be at the helm of one of the state’s crown jewels, French Lick Springs Hotel. When he first joined the company as a sales manager, the facility was in the midst of a $560 million dollar restoration and casino development, which turned out to be one of the largest private restoration projects in the United States. After advancing through the ranks, Blackburn took over responsibility for hotel operations in 2013.
Gary S. Thulander
President and General Manager
Woodstock Inn & Resort
President and general manager of the Woodstock Inn & Resort, a 142-room, 4 Diamond property which ranks in the top 500 hotels in the world. Since joining the resort in fall 2013, Thulander has led the resort to record occupancy and revenues. Through multi-million dollar renovations and resort programming, Thulander has strengthened the Woodstock Inn & Resort’s mission to remain a vibrant destination for travelers and the community. In spring 2017 he was awarded the Borden E. Avery Innkeeper of the Year by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce at the 34th Annual Vermont Tourism Summit. A hospitality industry veteran with more than 28 years of experience, including seven years as general manager at The Equinox Resort & Spa, Manchester Village, VT, Thulander has worked with premier resorts throughout the East Coast and Caribbean. He most recently served as general manager of Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain resorts in Saint Lucia, continuously voted as the top two resorts in the Caribbean.
Omni Bedford Springs Resort & Spa
Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania
General manager of Omni Bedford Springs Resort & Spa since August, 2016. Immediately prior Bill lived in Tokyo where he served as director and general manager for The New Sanno, a 149-room hotel operated by the U.S. Navy for Department of Defense. In this role, his responsibilities included the oversight of all operations, managing a workforce of approximately 280 foreign nationals and 14 U.S. employees, and establishing and maintaining relationships with associates, customers and the local Tokyo community. In his 30 years of experience in the hospitality industry, Liedholm served as general manager for a several hotel brands including Milestone Hotels, Quorum Hotels & Resorts and Hershey Entertainment & Resorts. Throughout his career Liedholm has been very involved in hospitality organizations serving on the Pennsylvania Tourism & Lodging Association board of directors as well as the American Hotel & Lodging Association.
MICHAEL B. HOFFMANN
Perry Cabin Resorts
St. Michael’s Maryland
Hoffmann is a global luxury hospitality leader hell-bent on service delivery and experience creation. Swiss by birth, globetrotter by passion, he’s worked in some of the world’s great hotels and resorts—including Peninsula Hong Kong, Claridge’s London and the Waldorf Astoria New York—and for renowned brands such as Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton and One&Only. Michael was attracted to the Inn and Links project for its location, tradition and the possibility of extending its unique offerings and creating a true destination for all travel enthusiasts.
Customer service is often touted by many top tier resorts. What’s your definition of customer service and how do you monitor, evaluate and learn from it?
GT: Delivering the unexpected personalized service consistently every day, in every guest interaction. Listening to my guests and employees and diligent detained tours of the property.
DB: Customer service is about making our guests feel like they are an extension of our family. It is about having genuine interactions, anticipating the guests’ need and wowing them with added touches. We are constantly monitoring guest sentiment and making tweaks to build upon the guest experience. We share feedback across the property and make sure to celebrate our successes.
BL: I define customer service in two ways. One way is personalized attention that recognizes the needs of that individual guest. The other is attention to detail, whether it be experiential, facility or associate related.
MH: Give the customer what he or she wants before they even know it. Deliver it in style, a timely manner and flawlessly to create a magical sense of execution. Listen to your customers and they will guide you to success. When I travel, I want to feel that I’m being looked after, without intrusion or overbearing hovering—just as if I were in my own home.
Millennials are quickly becoming the dominant force in the travel and leisure areas. What have you learned about the needs of Millennials versus those of Baby Boomers?
MH: Adapt the services that can and should be adapted, and make sure you are conscious of the implications technology offers.
BL: Millennials want variety, uniqueness and freedom. They don’t accept the status quo and expect service recognizing and catering to individual preferences.
DB: First of all, I don’t believe that all Millennials want the same things. With that being said, they are some take-aways we’ve gathered from hosting the younger demographic. They are curious travelers who seek out unique “Instagram-worthy” experiences and food is a key component of travel.
GT: Millennials seek unique experiences with Independent resorts than the normal hotel stay. They enjoy Information and experience sharing with their friends and family via social media especially Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat. Technology is important to them and need to be connected.
Finding quality staff is a never ending issue for many facilities. What’s your approach in dealing with this?
BL: We have expanded our reach and have to be very creative in the ways we recruit. Depending on the generation and position responsibilities we use many different avenues to deliver the message we have employment opportunities.
DB: We are very lucky in the fact that we have many heritage employees, with 20-plus years of service. Recruiting new associates is always top-of-mind. We re-evaluated our payroll structure in key areas to make high turnover positions more attractive. We also offer incentives like tuition assistance, profit sharing and quarterly bonuses.
GT: Our goal is to be the employer of choice in the region with generous benefits and a fair wage. We focus on personality, drive, and focus with all our hires and then have a detailed training to understand our service culture.
MH: Retain a team of hospitality enthusiasts, give them the freedom to deliver an experience that is personalized through their own delivery and celebrate the successes that ensue. The word will spread that this is a great place to work, and people will want to be part of this positive momentum in creating true hospitality.
Your biggest pet peeve is what?
DB: Negativity. I always try to look for the silver lining.
GT: Disorganization and lack of proper planning.
MH: When hospitality professionals don’t do what they got hired to do; when they don’t get the basics right and get them right consistently.
BL: Making the same mistake over and over again; not learning and growing from the first — or even the second mistake.
When you travel and you’re the guest — what’s the first thing you notice when arriving at a facility?
BL: Acknowledgement by the associate and cleanliness/upkeep.
DB: As a hospitality professional, you can’t help but notice every aspect of your travel experience. I am always mindful of how other properties operate and bring back the best practices to share with the team.
MH: Do they know who their customer is or are they just ticking boxes? How warm and gracious does the welcome feel?
GT: The sense of arrival and quality of landscaping and condition of the facilities.
Not selecting facilities you’ve work at name the best full scale resort you’ve ever been — and the ones you’re most interested in going to for the first time — both USA and globally?
MH: In the U.S., the best I’ve been to is the Four Seasons Lanai. On my short list, I’m going to step across the border to Wakanninish Inn on Vancouver Island. From a global perspective, the best I’ve experienced is the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, and Patagonia is on my hit list.
GT: In USA: The Montage Laguna in California and The Four Seasons Anguilla.
BL: Although I have been to many that were fantastic, In the USA my favorite resort is The Broadmoor. Abroad, I really admired and enjoyed staying in Japanese hotels. Their attention to detail, quality and guest satisfaction was phenomenal.
DB: I recently had the opportunity to travel to The Greenbrier and The Breakers is on my bucket list.
You’ve got one word to describe yourself — what would it be?
For additional info on the properties mentioned in the Q&A go to the following: